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Images. The page has finally been updated to include my most valued pieces. Hope you all enjoy!

First Order of Business When Rich: One Microscope Per Child

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Azospirillum brasilense cells swimming in an oxygen gradient. Magnified 40X

It is really sad humans (that seem so determined to destroy this planet) show little regard to the majority of species, most of which are invisible to the naked eye. Most people go through life without knowing the splendor of Mother Nature in all its glory.

It’s hard to believe now the accepted knowledge of society before invention of the microscope around 1590 by Zacharias Janssen (disputed). Everyone had  to rely on their own eyes, while exquisite in their own right, but these are only reliable down to the size of a human hair width. Imagine a world where flies and maggots were thought to spontaneously generate from items such as rotting meat. This was the common knowledge and understanding. After human observation was enhanced by wonderful inventions such as the compound microscope, only then could the true understanding of all things small or distant be studied in acceptable depth.

Imagine if you will looking through a microscope for the first time. You have been told, and believe, you live in a clean world in which if you can’t see it, it does not exist. With true curiosity and virgin eyes, you place a drop of water on a small glass slide and focus upon it with a microscope. Small particles that appear to be moving as if they were swimming come into view. Suddenly, your whole world changes. At the intersection of ignorance and knowledge, powerful things happen.

Today, microscopes have evolved and improved to the point where we can visualize hydrogen bonds in molecules at the atomic scale. The invention of the electron microscope helped usher in the field of virology just as Antonie van Leeuwenhoek did so much for microbiology with his improvements to the light microscope. The gifted van Leeuwenhoek discovered red blood cells, cell vacuoles, and bacteria (among other things). Thanks to him, the use of a microscope became a useful technique in various types of research.

It is said that ignorance is bliss. However, I believe ignorance is…ignorance. The less a person knows and understands, the smaller their world and the less their ability to imagine and perceive new ideas. Seeing is believing and what better way to see beyond your means than with a microscope.

Now, imagine giving this enormous ability to see the unexplainable to the most curious and imaginative of us, children. Their innate curiosity and unobstructed ability to use their imagination makes the power of the microscope exponentially greater. Giving a child this portal to the unseen opens their eyes to endless possibilities, probing questions, and the ability to answer the questions themselves.

I support the One Laptop Per Child movement. Opening up the entire world of information to a child can open up new possibilities and lead to a better life. The laptop opens the world to the child, but a microscope opens the child’s world in which they live. The knowledge gained is not flat and two dimensional; it is in real 3D.

Yeah, when I’m rich, One Microscope Per Child is my first action.

Never underestimate clever bacteria: bacterial persistance

If there is anything I try to convey to anyone who will listen: never underestimate the intelligence of bacteria. A new case-in-point was published in the journal Infection and Immunity (Abstract only- Paywall) from researchers in Buffalo, New York to back up my claim. Former knowledge from two pathogens that cause strep throat, ear infections, and colds suggested they did not survive long outside the human body. However, a new study about Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococcus pneumoniae suggests we were wrong and the bacteria were right.

Previous studies used unnatural conditions; i) cells grown in broth media and ii) free-living cells. These both are not encountered by bacteria which invade a human host. S. pyogenes and S. pneumoniae both infect humans as biofilms; very resistant, closely-connected bacterial communities. The present study used biofilm bacteria to test how long these bacteria could survive outside the body and still infect mice.

To drive the message home, researchers tested a day-care center for S. pyogenes and S. pneumoniae living on surfaces and capable of causing infection. Results indicate these bacteria were found at high levels and viable even after surfaces were cleaned before sampling.

Let me re-iterate: bacteria know survival. Don’t underestimate their ability to evade our most clever defenses and come out on top while we lay in bed recovering.

News Flash: Cook Your Chicken (like you have been)

I personally have a Google News section for “Bacteria”. I was shocked by the headlines I have read today:

After being told for years not to eat raw chicken, yet again, we are reminded why.
After being told for years not to eat raw chicken, yet again, we are reminded why.

How is this news? We have a general understanding around our house, “Raw chicken is the dirtiest thing you can bring into the house”. Even my four year old knows this. Through many years of research, countless studies have shown the quick adaptability of bacterial species to the over use of antibiotics. This has rendered most common drug treatments for bacterial infection useless.

However, bacteria have NOT adapted ability to resist some common treatments like alcohol, bleach, UV radiation, and heat. I do not recommend cleaning tomorrow night’s chicken with alcohol or bleach. I personally would go with heat. So, please, next time you want to make a chicken dinner, be safe and cook it as recommended.

In honor of Halloween: Bat aureus

One of the scariest of all bacterial species, Bat aureus!

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The wretched Bat aureus.

(also a preview of an upcoming post)…

New meaning to the term “gut feeling”: gut bacteria and the brain

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Illustration of the human small intestine, home to countless bacteria. These bacteria colonize the villi as shown here.

 

We’ve been told for years that our body is composed of cells, human cells. We’ve also heard about the ‘good’ bacteria that inhabit our bodies and help us digest different types of food and can even provide us essential vitamins and nutrients. Most of this occurs in the small intestine where our food starts to become our poop. Pardon the pun, but what we’ve been told is grossly underestimated. First, they outnumber our cells…by a lot (10 to 1). That doesn’t include the overwhelming majority of genetic material in or on our bodies that is not ours (see infographic here).

More and more evidence is being presented showing the intimate relationship between man and his flora. First, these little guys provide more than just vitamins including some B vitamins and K. They also are able to absorb essential minerals, like calcium and iron, from our food for us to use later. They also provide a physical barrier to defend against infection from pathogens that may enter your digestive tract.

Recent research has shown a connection between gut bacteria and childhood eczema (here).

Another study indicates small molecules secreted by bacteria can prevent inflammatory bowel (here).

How about gut bacteria affecting the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in susceptible individuals (here).

One study found by eating probiotic yogurt, women had lower occurrence of depression (here).

There is also the new technique of curing chronic colon inflammation with a fecal transplant (here and here).

These are just a few, picked examples establishing a relationship between bacteria, or the types of bacteria, in our guts and our health. What about examples?

Autism and gut bacteria

Research now suggests a link between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and environmental factors. These may include a number of factors, but what about gut bacteria?

A recent article in PLoS ONE shows a significant decrease in GI bacterial diversity among autistic subjects compared to normal subjects. Some common bacterial genera were missing in autistic subjects, especially Prevotella. The missing bacteria were common carbohydrate-degrading species or fermenters. This, and other, evidence could explain the common GI irritability in autistic children. There is also some reports of changes in diet (gluten-free, caseine-free) lessening the effects of autistic symptoms.

It is still early, and much more needs to be studied. However, you shouldn’t think of yourself as a single entity. You and your bugs are a package deal.